Sports Out West

Phil Jackson states coaching days are done, expresses uncertainty about Lakers’ future

Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If a coaching change were in the Los Angeles Lakers’ plans for this upcoming offseason, Phil Jackson‘s name can be crossed off the list, well at least for now.

While at MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this past weekend, Jackson held a sit-down with USA Today Sports writer Sam Amick, in which they discussed an array of topics that included his future in possibly coaching in the NBA again.

“I don’t want to be on the sidelines,” Jackson says with a grin as he heads for the elevator and disappears yet again. “That’s for damned sure.”

As for the Lakers choosing Mike D’Antoni over Jackson as their head coach in November 2012, the 68-year-old has learned to live and let go of the situation.

“You know, it was something that has bounced from spot to spot. When I left (the interview), Jimmy was pretty happy about it and Mitch was still saying, “We’re going to keep interviewing people,” and I think the ultimate (decision) kind of rested with Dr. Buss and he made the decision in the hospital the day after. I haven’t chosen to bite on that. I’ve just let that go. I’m real comfortable with it. I don’t have any trouble. I think Jesus could probably coach this team pretty well, but outside of him maybe Mohammed, maybe Gandhi, someone like that.”

Jackson’s statement does not come as much as a surprise as he has stated in several occasions over the past year that he is done with coaching. So with that out of the question what lies ahead as far as the NBA for the 11-champion coach?

 “There are a few (opportunities), but I shouldn’t name them. It wouldn’t be right to talk about it, name anything. But yeah, there are some. There are winners and losers in the NBA, and a lot of people are trying to reclaim their position or change their culture or whatever. So yeah, there is. I’ve had conversations. Some of them are feelers. ‘Are you interested?’ type of thing.”

So with a handful of opportunities in front of him, could a return to Lakers in a front office position be one of them for Jackson?

” I don’t think so. I have a good relationship with the vice president in business affairs (Jeanie Buss) — at least it has been pretty good (laughs). She’s dedicated to their family running the business and trying to feel what that’s like. Their father’s memorial service is not a year old, but he has been gone for a year now and they’re still just kind of figuring out, ‘How are we going to do this?’ So I think they want to have an opportunity to do it.

“And Mitch, obviously, has a relationship with (Lakers executive vice president of player personnel and Jeanie’s brother) Jimmy that has been going on since, I think, 2004 or so, when he started becoming really involved. So for the last 10 years, he and Mitch have been pretty much working together. (Late Lakers owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss came in on things. We had a few issues. Kobe (Bryant) had an issue one year. We had an issue getting Pau (Gasol). Some of the major moves, Dr. Buss was still there. But the other stuff Jimmy and Mitch have been working on. They’ve got a relationship, so I don’t see that happening.”

With Jackson ruling out a possible return to Los Angeles, he also provided his perspective on one of his former players, Pau Gasol, who will become a free agent come July for the first time in his 13-year NBA career. So with that said, Jackson stated some doubt about the four-time All-Star returning to the Lakers next season.

“Well really, there’s a limited free agent market this year. Luol Deng, and Pau Gasol is going to be a free agent — they can resign their own guy, which I don’t know if Pau would want to re-sign with them or not. Maybe he feels that’s not the best place, but he likes LA, he likes the fans. Who else is in the free agent market besides Luol that jumps (at you)?”

Gasol’s standing with Los Angeles is now at the point, where it is unknown on whether the team desires to retain him past this season. He has stated he wants to stay with the Lakers, but it does not appear that the organization feels the same way. So with Jackson voicing doubt about the situation, it only puts more wood on the fire that Gasol may playing elsewhere after this year.

As far as the Lakers’ future after this disastrous season , Jackson believes that the team will have a high draft pick and a chance to acquire some help via free agency if things play out in their favor.

“Um, you know, they’re just great options. They’re going to have, what, a top five pick — maybe top four? Everybody is looking at those odds and what those odds mean. … It’s a chance of getting a tremendous pick and then they have to go from there basically. Now you’ve got to raise a 19-year-old, and the last one that we had — Andrew Bynum — was limited in physical limitations in his game and we were able to get him through a number of seasons….. and then July 1 you have the free agent march, and who sees any of those guys from Miami leaving if they have an opportunity to win. And right now, they’re looking like the best team in the league still.”

Jackson also feels that there is a possibility that Los Angeles will stay pat and further develop the young players on the team with D’Antoni as the head coach.

“Right, so I think the Lakers will probably stay pretty pat, make another extension of the year that they had this year with the younger players and players coming in that they can look at and see if they can’t get a core group of young players playing together. Trust the fact that Mike can kind of blend a gun-and-run and run-and-gun team.”

So with that all said, Jackson’s point of view of the Lakers’ current situation brings perspective to it all which is that there is no set plan moving forward. The team is in a midst of arguably their worst season in the organization’s history as they are on pace to surpass their 19-53 record that was the 1957-58 season.

Despite the fact that they will hold an influx of cap space this upcoming offseason, there is no certainty that they will acquire a top free agent such as LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony as both could end up re-signing with their respective teams. If that does indeed fall through, there are also questions about whether Gasol will return as the team has not shown interest in keeping the 33-year-old past this season.

This coupled with the fact that Gasol has stated that he will not give Los Angeles “bargaining rights” and is “open to all options” does not sound encouraging for the Lakers. Then there is the health situations with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. Nash has become a question mark for not only returning this season but also if he will be on the roster come next season given the fact that he has only played in 10 games this year due to nerve root irritation in his back and legs.

As for Bryant, he has been out since Dec. 17 due to a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee that came just nine days after returning from a torn left Achilles tendon that sidelined him for over eight months.  There are  a question marks about whether he will be able to return this season at all as he has no timetable set and also what kind of player he will be once he does take the court.

In essence, the Lakers’ future can be summed up as one huge question mark as there are a variety of ways the organization can go after the end of the season. So with that said, all that can be done in the meantime is wait and see what unfolds.

Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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Bob Garcia IV

Bob Garcia is a sports journalist from Southern California. He was a reporter for the award-winning newspaper, The Daily Sundial, at California State University, Northridge. You can follow him on Twitter, @BGarcia90.